Mac News Review

Thinner iMac, Faster Mac mini, Fusion Drive Technology, and More Mac News

This Week's Apple and Desktop Mac News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2012.10.27

Apple introduced updated, slimmer iMacs, faster Mac minis, and a new technology, Fusion Drive, this week. Details below.

Mac notebook and other portable computing is covered in The 'Book Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in iOS News Review. Older Macs are covered in Vintage Mac News. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

Purchases made through links to Amazon.com and Apple's iTunes/iBook/App/Mac App Store support Low End Mac.

News & Opinion

Fusion Drive

Products & Services

Software

Desktop Mac Deals

News & Opinion

Thinner All-New iMac Features Stunning Design, Brilliant Display, Faster Performance; Mac mini Updated as Well

Late 2012 iMacs

PR: October 23, 2012 - Apple today unveiled a completely new iMac with a stunning design, brilliant display with reduced reflection, and faster processors.1 With third generation Intel quad-core processors, powerful Nvidia graphics and an innovative new storage option called Fusion Drive, the new iMac is the most advanced desktop Apple has ever made.

side view of 27" iMac
The slimmest iMac yet!

"With a stunning design, brilliant display and faster performance, we've made the world's leading all-in-one desktop computer better in every way," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. "The all-new iMac is unbelievably thin, yet packs an incredible amount of performance and technology into our most innovative desktop."

Redesigned from the inside out, the new iMac packs high-performance technology into an aluminum and glass enclosure with up to 40% less volume than its predecessor and an edge that measures just 5 mm thin. Built with an unprecedented level of fit and finish, the new iMac delivers an amazing desktop experience in a gorgeous design. The new iMac also features a completely reengineered display that reduces reflection by 75% while maintaining brilliant color and contrast. In the new design, the cover glass is fully laminated to the LCD and an antireflective coating is applied using a high-precision plasma deposition process. Every iMac display is individually color calibrated using an advanced spectroradiometer.

The new iMac features third generation quad-core Intel Core i5 processors that can be upgraded to Core i7. The latest Nvidia GeForce processors deliver up to 60% faster performance for advanced gaming and graphics intensive apps. Every new iMac now comes standard with 8 GB of 1600 MHz memory and a 1 TB hard drive, and customers can choose to configure their iMac with up to 32 GB of memory and a new 3 TB hard drive, or 768 GB of flash storage for ultimate performance. With two Thunderbolt and four USB 3.0 ports, the new iMac delivers even greater expandability and support for high-performance peripherals.

Fusion Drive (see below) is an innovative new storage option that gives customers the performance of flash storage and the capacity of a hard drive. It combines 128 GB of flash with a standard 1 TB or 3 TB hard drive to create a single storage volume that intelligently manages files to optimize read and write performance. Fusion Drive adapts to the way you use your iMac and automatically moves the files and apps you use most often to flash storage to enable faster performance and quicker access.

Mac mini Update

Apple also updated the Mac mini with third generation dual-core Intel Core i5 and quad-core Intel Core i7 processors that are up to twice as fast and have integrated graphics that are up to 65% faster.2 Mac mini comes standard with 4 GB of 1600 MHz memory with support for up to 16 GB. Mac miniRetaining its amazingly compact aluminum design, the new Mac mini now includes four USB 3.0 ports in addition to its Thunderbolt, HDMI, SDXC, Gigabit Ethernet, and FireWire 800 ports.

Both iMac and Mac mini meet stringent Energy Star 5.2 requirements and achieve an EPEAT Gold rating.3 iMac uses up to 50% less energy than the previous generation when idle, and features LED-backlit displays that are mercury-free and made with arsenic-free glass. Mac mini retains its status as the world's most energy efficient desktop computer, using only 11W when idle. Both the iMac and Mac mini include PVC-free components and cables, contain no brominated flame retardants, and use highly recyclable materials and material-efficient packaging designs.

iMac and Mac mini ship with OS X Mountain Lion, bringing Messages, Notification Center, systemwide Sharing, AirPlay Mirroring, Dictation, Game Center and the enhanced security of Gatekeeper to your Mac. With iCloud built into the foundation of OS X, Mountain Lion makes it easier than ever to keep your content up to date across your Mac, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

Pricing & Availability

The 21.5" iMac is available with a 2.7 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.2 GHz and Nvidia GeForce GT 640M for a suggested retail price of $1,299; and with a 2.9 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.6 GHz and Nvidia GeForce GT 650M for a suggested retail price of $1,499. The 21.5" iMac will be available in November through the Apple Online Store, Apple's retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers.

The 27" iMac is available with a 2.9 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.6 GHz and Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M for a suggested retail price of $1,799; and with a 3.2 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.6 GHz and Nvidia GeForce GTX 675MX for a suggested retail price of $1,999. The 27" iMac will be available in December through the Apple Online Store, Apple's retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers.

The Mac mini is available with a 2.5 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.1 GHz, 4 GB of memory and a 500 GB hard drive for a suggested retail price of $599; a 2.3 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.3 GHz, 4 GB of memory and a 1 TB hard drive for a suggested retail price of $799; and a 2.3 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.3 GHz, OS X Server, 4 GB of memory and two 1 TB hard drives for a suggested retail price of $999. The Mac mini is available today through the Apple Online Store, Apple's retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers.

Additional technical specifications, configure-to-order options and accessories are available online at apple.com/imac or apple.com/mac-mini.

  1. Testing conducted by Apple in October 2012 using preproduction iMac configurations. For more information visit apple.com/imac/features/.
  2. Testing conducted by Apple in October 2012 using preproduction Mac mini configurations. For more information visit apple.com/mac-mini/features.html.
  3. Claim based on energy efficiency categories and products listed within the EPA ENERGY STAR 5.2 energy database as of October 2012. EPEAT is an independent organization that helps customers compare the environmental performance of notebooks and desktops. Products meeting all of the required criteria and at least 75% of the optional criteria are recognized as EPEAT Gold products. The EPEAT program was conceived by the US EPA and is based on IEEE 1680 standard for Environmental Assessment of Personal Computer Products. For more information visit www.epeat.net.

AppleDesigns Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

New 21.5" iMac Not Designed for User Upgrades

Softpedia observes that for whatever reason, Apple's designers decided that the new 21.5" version of the iMac would not offer any upgrade options - not even RAM - leaving Apple's entry-level all-in-one desktop solution completely non-upgradable. With the new iMacs, the option to upgrade the RAM is only available with the high-end 27" model.

The 21.5" iMac comes with 8 GB of memory and can be configured only at time of purchase with 16 GB. On the 27" iMac, 8 GB of memory comes standard, and you can upgrade to 16 GB or 32 GB.

Thus Apple is following a similar trend pattern with the iMac as it has with its newer laptop models beginning with the MacBook Air, with processor chips and system memory soldered to the logic board and no RAM expansion slots.

The inescapable inference is that Apple's orientation is to turn all of its hardware configurations into variants of the iPad.

Publisher's note: Based on a report on AnandTech (below), system memory can be upgraded in the 21.5" iMac, but you have to take the computer apart to do so. This is a big step backwards, Apple. dk

New 27" iMac's User Serviceable Memory Panel

AnandTech's Anand Lal Shimpi notes that both the 21.5 and 27" new iMacs use SO-DIMMs, but only the 27" model allows end user RAM upgrades behind a little panel providing access to the system's SO-DIMM slots. Unhappily, the 21.5" model needs to be torn down to gain access to the memory slots.

New Mac mini Torn Down and Benchmarked

AppleInsider's Mikey Campbell reports:

"A pair of Mac colocation companies performed teardowns and benchmark tests of Apple's newly released Mac mini, finding that the small format desktop's performance is approaching that of legacy Xserves and 2010's Mac Pro."

How Much That You Once Did on the Mac Is Now Done Only on iPhone or iPad?

Mac 360's Alexis Kayhill says that most of her email is handled on the iPad. Likewise casual web browsing, Facebook, RSS readers, and news watching. And while everything used to be on the Mac, many functions have become iPhone or iPad only for her. She spends less time on the Mac's keyboard than she does hunched over her iPhone or navigating the iPad, observing that while it may be many years before the Mac takes a back seat to iPhone and iPad, the trend is clear.

Where will the trend toward using handheld devices end?

Apple Dumps Java in Latest OS X Security Release

Intego blogger Sam Lawrence riffs on Apple's recently pulling of Java from OS X in an effort to close some of the loopholes that potential attackers could use to compromise a Mac. Lawrence shares a brief history of OS X and Java and how they have grown together. He notes that Apple takes security so seriously that for the last several years it maintained its own builds of Java, which were deployed across the Mac platform. Two years ago, Apple announced that it would no longer be supporting Java on the Mac (following the release of Java SE 6 1.6.0_22), and since then, Java releases on the Mac have slightly lagged behind Oracle's general releases.

"Their message last week was loud and clear," says Lawrence, "if you want to be vulnerable, it's your choice, but Apple will no longer support a language and platform that leaves their users at risk."

Fusion Drive

Apple Explains Fusion Drive

A new Apple Knowledge Base article says the Fusion Drive is a new storage option for Mac mini (Late 2012) and iMac (Late 2012) computers that combines the performance of Flash storage with the capacity of a hard drive.

Products Affected: Mac mini (Late 2012), iMac (Intel-based)

Presented as a single volume on your Mac, Fusion Drive automatically and dynamically moves frequently used files to Flash storage for quicker access, while infrequently used items move to the hard disk. As a result you'll enjoy shorter startup times, and as the system learns how you work you'll see faster application launches and quicker file access. Fusion Drive manages all this automatically in the background.

One interesting limitation is that you can add just one partition to the hard disk side of the Fusion Drive, after which the "plus" symbol in Disk Utility to add additional partitions will be grayed out. The explanation of why is that the additional partition is not part of Fusion Drive but rather a separate volume that is physically located on the hard disk drive. You can't partition the Flash storage.

Fusion Drive can be mounted on another system in Target Disk Mode, but the system attempting to mount the Fusion Drive in Target Disk Mode must have OS X Mountain Lion version 10.8.2 or later. A Fusion Drive will not appear as a Target Disk Mode volume or startup disk on earlier versions of Mac OS X.

Also, if you first used a Time Machine backup drive to store images that originated from a computer with OS X Lion v10.7, you won't be able to select Fusion Drive backup images from the backup. Fusion Drive images must be the first ones to be written to the Time Machine backup drive to be selectable. After the initial Fusion Drive backup image is written to a Time Machine back up drive, you can add OS X Lion images to the drive and you can use it without limitations.

The version of Disk Utility that comes with Fusion Drive is unique, and earlier versions of Disk Utility can't be used with a Fusion Drive.

Apple Joins Hybrid Storage Market with Fusion Drive

MacFixIt's Dong Ngo notes that at its October 23 Special Event, Apple announced a new type of hybrid storage device it calls "Fusion Drive", which combines 128 GB of flash (SSD) storage and a regular 1 TB or 3 TB hard drive - initially available as an option in its new iMac and Mac mini.

The Fusion Drive is integrated with OS X 10.8.1. It installs the operating system and bundled applications on the SSD while data, such as media and documents, stay on the hard drive. However, the OS will automatically optimize performance by moving frequently-used applications to the SSD, and users users can also manually move apps and files between the two "sides" of the drive to improve performance. Fusion Drive-equipped iMacs or Mac minis will ship preconfigured. Apple claims that that the Fusion Drive will offer real-world performance very close to that of a solid-state drive while retaining the storage capacity of a hard drive.

Distinguishing the Fusion Drive from most other hybrid drives is the 128 GB of solid-state memory compared with the more typical 32 MB or smaller flash cache in hybrid 2.5" laptop drives. Apple's Fusion Drive, at least for now, will be only available for desktop models.

Understanding Apple's Fusion Drive

Anand Tech's Anand Lal Shimpi explains,

"...Apple introduced a new feature that I honestly expected it to debut much earlier: Fusion Drive.

"The idea is simple. Apple offers either solid state or mechanical HDD storage in its iMac and Mac mini. End users have to choose between performance or capacity/cost-per-GB. With Fusion Drive, Apple is attempting to offer the best of both worlds.

"The new iMac and Mac mini can be outfitted with a Fusion Drive option that couples 128 GB of NAND flash with either a 1 TB or 3 TB hard drive. The Fusion part comes in courtesy of Apple's software that takes the two independent drives and presents them to the user as a single volume. Originally I thought this might be SSD caching but after poking around the new iMacs and talking to Apple I have a better understanding of what's going on.

"For starters, the 128 GB . . . is simply an SSD . . . with the same connector that's used in the new MacBook Air and rMBP models."

"Total volume size is the sum of both parts. In the case of the 128 GB + 1 TB option, the total available storage is ~1.1 TB. The same is true for the 128 GB + 3 TB option (~3.1 TB total storage).

"By default the OS and all preloaded applications are physically stored on the 128 GB of NAND flash. But what happens when you go to write to the array?

"With Fusion Drive enabled, Apple creates a 4 GB write buffer on the NAND itself. Any writes that come in to the array hit this 4 GB buffer first, which acts as sort of a write cache. Any additional writes cause the buffer to spill over to the hard disk."

"That 4 GB write buffer is the only cache-like component to Apple's Fusion Drive. Everything else works as an OS directed pinning algorithm instead of an SSD cache. In other words, Mountain Lion will physically move frequently used files, data and entire applications to the 128 GB [SSD] and move less frequently used items to the hard disk."

"After a few accesses Fusion Drive should be able to figure out if it needs to pull something new into NAND. The 128 GB size is near ideal for most light client workloads...."

"We'll have to wait and see what happens when we get our hands on an iMac next month."

Products & Services

Dolly Drive Offers 100 GB Free to Try Its Mac-centric Backup & Storage

PR: Cirrus Thinking, makers of the Dolly Drive cloud backup and storage for Mac, is encouraging Mac users to try the company's Apple-inspired cloud storage with a free 30-day trial of up to 100 gigabytes.

"With 30 days and 100 Gigs to play with, Mac fans will have the time and storage space to truly appreciate the exceptional Dolly Drive experience." says Anthony Palermo, creator of Dolly Drive. "We want them to see that the Dolly interface is not only elegant and Mac-ready, but does more to protect their data and give them easy anywhere access on their iPhones, iPads and other computers than any other cloud services."

The offer signals an intention by the company to help Mac users consolidate their data protection and access services - Dropbox, iCloud, & online backup - into a single, more cost-efficient application.

"As Mac users become more proficient with the cloud - from backing up files to accessing them on their phones or other computers - they are becoming overburdened with multiple applications, logins, & high-priced services." says Palermo. "Dolly lets them access all of those features from one app at a price point lower than the others".

Pricing and Availability

The 100 Gigabyte annual Dolly Drive plan is priced at $72, less than similar services like Dropbox ($99), iCloud, ($100 for 50 GB), Mozy ($96), Spider Oak ($100), and SugarSync ($149). Dolly Drive plans continue in various sizes up to 8 terabytes or more.

The company's new operating platform, Dolly Drive REVO version, is an all-in-one sync, store and backup service designed for the Mac experience. In addition to providing Mac users offsite cloud storage and mobile access to expand hard drive space, the application allows users to create a bootable clone of their Mac on an external hard drive for local disaster recovery. See more of the new REVO release visit Dolly Drive online.

Software

Memory Clean Frees Up Memory Without Logout or Restart

Memory Clean for MacPR: Memory Clean is an app for optimizing your Mac's memory and is recommended especially for after you've finished using a memory (RAM) intensive app or game.

With a slick interface and easy-to-use, Memory Clean works by purging the Mac's inactive memory and is best used after you close memory-hungry apps that you don't not plan to use again within a few hours.

Before and after running Memory Clean
Before and after running Memory Clean

New in Version 2.0

  • Mountain Lion support.
  • New Features.
  • Updated UI and App Icon.
  • Fixed Bugs.

System requirements:

  • OS X 10.7 or later
  • 64-bit processor

Currently offered free for a limited (unspecified) time at time of posting this Reader.

Publisher's note: For those still using OS X 10.6, Memory Cleaner ($5.99) does the same thing. We've been using it on our Mac mini for quite a while, although it's far less necessary with 3 GB of RAM than it was when it had only 1 GB installed. dk

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